Best Cell Phone Coverage

What’s the point of a cell phone if you can’t use it?

Best carrier on Verizon's network
Visible
Visible
4 out of 5 stars
4
Starting from
$25
/mo
  • pro
    Unlimited hotspot data
  • pro
    Uses best 4G coverage network
  • con
    Data throttling
Best carrier on AT&T's network
Red Pocket Mobile
Red Pocket Mobile
3.8 out of 5 stars
3.75
Starting from
$10
/mo
  • pro
    Free streaming data
  • pro
    Get 50% off first month
  • con
    Some dead spots
Best carrier on T-Mobile
Mint Mobile
Mint Mobile
4 out of 5 stars
4
Starting from
$15
/mo
  • pro
    Budget-friendly
  • pro
    Get 50% off first three months of Unlimited plan
  • con
    Poor coverage in some areas
Tyler Abbott
Jan 12, 2024
bullet6 min read

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Spotty cell phone service gets really annoying, really quickly. If your calls constantly drop, or you frequently can't get texts out, you probably chose the wrong carrier.

There are three major wireless networks in the United States battling it out for coverage superiority. As it stands heading into 2023, here's how the rankings look for coverage availability:

Best coverage availability1

  1. AT&T: 99.4% availability
  2. Verizon: 99.2% availability
  3. T-Mobile 98.3% availability

Availability refers to the percentage of the time that customers are connected to some kind of wireless network, whether that's a 3G (god forbid), 4G, or 5G wireless connection.

The big three carriers are basically within a percentage point of each other when it comes to overall coverage and availability, but that small percentage can make a big difference if you happen to live in an area with excellent Verizon coverage and awful T-Mobile coverage, for example.

In this article, we'll go through each major coverage network and recommend our favorite carrier from each. 

Compare best cell phone plans by coverage
Provider
Monthly price
Network
Data
Learn more

$25–$45

Verizon

Unlimited

$10–$40

AT&T

Unlimited

$15–$30

T-Mobile

Unlimited

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Visible: Best unlimited plan on Verizon's network

Verizon offers some of the most reliable coverage in the country. Visible Wireless is your ticket to an affordable unlimited plan on Verizon's network
Verizon coverage map

What we like

Verizon Wireless offers excellent coverage, especially in rural areas of the country. The problem with Verizon is that its cell phone plans cost an arm and a leg. You can get an unlimited plan on Verizon's network for a much cheaper price.

Reliable coverage on Verizon's network

On average, Verizon users report getting 4G coverage 98.3% of the time while using Verizon’s network.1 Depending upon where you are in the country, your coverage will probably feel even more reliable than that. The only pockets of America you need to worry about are more rural areas in the Southwest, Midwest, and Northwest.

If you live close to any big cities in those areas, you should expect super reliable coverage. Depending on your service location, you may be covered by 5G. 

Fast download speeds

We know that Verizon Wireless offers excellent rural coverage, but what about the network’s data download speeds? Verizon clocks in around 34.3 Mbps on average for download speeds. T-Mobile currently owns the fastest data speeds at 97.1 Mbps, and AT&T comes in second at 40.1 Mbps.

Even though Verizon can't boast the same speeds as Verizon, you can still enjoy TikToks, YouTube videos, and online gaming apps should all pull up quickly and smoothly on Verizon’s network pretty much anywhere in the country.

Get Verizon coverage for cheap with Visible

Visible Wireless is actually owned by Verizon, so you can rest assured that you'll have excellent access to the coverage network. And the best part, of course, is that you pay significantly less for a Visible unlimited plan than you do for a Verizon unlimited plan:

Visible vs. Verizon plans

What we don’t like

Visible Wireless is an MVNO. MVNO stands for mobile virtual network operator. Translation: alternative carriers that piggyback on other wireless networks to provide cell phone service. MVNO carriers can charge lower rates for cell phone plans, but the tradeoff is your data and coverage can slow down in congested areas.

An MVNO basically feels kind of like getting the cheap seats at a really expensive concert—you get to see the show, but you don’t always get the best view.

You can use an MVNO mobile provider that works on Verizon’s network, but you’ll occasionally run into deprioritization. In other words, your data speeds and coverage could drop in more congested areas because the Verizon network gives priority to Verizon customers.

Red Pocket: Best coverage availability, second fastest download speeds

Red Pocket offers the most coverage availability and speedy downloads thanks to AT&T's network
AT&T coverage map

What we like

AT&T's network pulls ahead of T-Mobile and Verizon on overall coverage availability, and Red Pocket is our top recommended carrier on AT&T's network. 

Best coverage availability overall

As it stands right now, AT&T users report enjoying reliable coverage 99.4% of the time.1 It’s about a 1–2% coverage increase from Verizon to AT&T, making the coverage difference virtually unrecognizable for most of the country. It all really just depends on your specific neighborhood. 

Solid download speeds

AT&T users average 40.1 Mbps download speeds1. It's a few notches above Verizon (34.3) and quite a few notches below what T-Mobile (97.1 Mbps) offer, but AT&T's data speeds are still pretty reliable1. I'm an active AT&T user and very rarely encounter dead spots with my data speeds. For reference, here are the average download speeds across the three major wireless networks.

With an average download speed of 40.1 Mbps, you should have no problem pulling up YouTube streams, TikTok videos, or Instagram stories. You should also be able to download apps without a problem even when you're not connected to Wi-Fi.

Get AT&T for cheap with Red Pocket

Red Pocket is our pick for the most budget-friendly MVNO carrier on AT&T's network. You won't find an unlimited data plan with Red Pocket, but you can get a 100 GB data plan for $50/month, which is basically like an unlimited plan. It's also cheaper than basically any comparable AT&T plan:

What we don’t like

Most of the country is covered, but you should still look at AT&T’s coverage map. For example, if you live in Idaho or Montana, you should really double-check the coverage map and make sure where you live is covered. 

Mint Mobile: Best carrier on T-Mobile's network

Strong coverage with super fast data speeds
T-Mobile coverage map

What we like

T-Mobile’s 4G coverage falls behind what Verizon and AT&T offer, but T-Mobile makes up for it with incredible data speeds. You can access T-Mobile's 5G network for a much cheaper price thanks to Mint Mobile.

Best 5G coverage

T-Mobile, so far, has taken a commanding lead of the 5G race over Verizon and AT&T. T-Mobile doubles AT&T's 5G coverage and more than triples Verizon's 5G coverage, which explains the excellent data speeds. Make sure to enter your ZIP code in the coverage map above to see what we're talking about. You're much more likely to get 5G coverage with T-Mobile's network than you will with Verizon or AT&T.

As a Mint Mobile user, you get access to T-Mobile's 5G network, along with its awesome data speeds. 

Fastest data download and upload speeds

Though T-Mobile comes last in coverage availability, T-Mobile’s network comes in first place for data upload and download speeds. This is a big deal for any of you who happen to post Instagram stories, TikTok videos, or YouTube videos. Likewise, it's a big deal for those of you who watch Instagram stories, TikTok videos, and YouTube videos. So, really, all of us.

The average T-Mobile user gets an 11.7 Mbps upload speed and 97.1 Mbps download speed, making it the fastest wireless option out there1.

Get T-Mobile 5G coverage for cheap with Mint Mobile

Mint Mobile is our favorite prepaid carrier that operates on T-Mobile's network. Along with super-affordable pricing, you also get 5G mobile hotspot data as well. Check out how Mint Mobile's unlimited plan compares what T-Mobile offers:

Mint Mobile vs. T-Mobile plans

What we don’t like

T-Mobile/Mint Mobile’s coverage gets much more spotty as you venture out into the more rural areas of the country. For folks who spend a lot of time in the great outdoors, you might run into dead spots on T-Mobile’s network

Less reliable coverage in rural areas

If you hail from the great states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, or Nebraska we would say to avoid Mint Mobile altogether. You’re bound to run into dead zones frequently, and that’s annoying.

Recap: You get what you pay for

Let's recap the best wireless coverage.

Best wireless coverage based on availability:

  1. AT&T: 99.4% availability
  2. Verizon: 99.2% availability
  3. T-Mobile 98.3% availability

Whether you live in a rural area or a more urban area, coverage is a big deal. You never know when you’ll need to get a text out or make a call. Just think how many horror movies could’ve been prevented with good coverage.

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Best Cell Phone Coverage Methodology

Hands-on Testing

While we couldn't road trip and test every network in every corner of the country, we performed as coverage tests in as many areas as possible. To inform this article, we performed coverage tests in rural and metropolitan areas of California, Utah, Florida, Arizona, and Texas.

To perform coverage tests, we would make phone calls, send texts, and try to stream YouTube videos from smart devices.

Proprietary Data

The most helpful data resource comes from our proprietary speed test. Millions of users have used our speed test tool to measure wireless performance, and we can track results, carrier used, and the location where the speed test was performed. We can then use that data to get a strong sense of user experience in terms of coverage for many different areas of the country.

Key Metrics

In our methodology, we assign weights to various metrics based on their importance in determining network quality. These metrics may include:

Coverage: Extent and reliability of network coverage across different geographical areas.
Speed: Data speed performance for both uploads and downloads.
Call Quality: Clarity, connectivity, and consistency of voice calls.
Reliability: Network stability, minimal downtime, and fewer dropped calls.
Customer Satisfaction: User feedback, customer support, and overall satisfaction ratings. Social media and Reddit are in invaluable resource for anecdotal user experiences with different carriers.

Online Research

We scour reputable technology websites, industry reports, customer reviews, and social media platforms (Reddit, Twitter) to gather insights on the performance and reputation of each network. In particular, OpenSignal, WhistleOut, and carrier websites have provided excellent insight.

Whether you live in a rural area or a more urban area, coverage is a big deal. You never know when you’ll need to get a text out or make a call. Just think how many horror movies could’ve been prevented with good coverage.

How has your experience been with these providers? Any horror stories or tales of redemption? Let us know in the comments below!

FAQs

The newest cell phone network technology is called 5G. The five stands for “fifth” and the G stands for “generation”. It comes in the wake of earlier generations like 3G, 4G LTE, and 4G. 

So, which 5G network is the best right now, in 2024? The short answer is: T-Mobile, which has the best overall 5G coverage and the fastest average 5G speeds, according to OpenSignal.

But the longer answer is: it depends. In certain areas, Verizon is actually the best, with its powerful millimeter wave 5G technology that can give you speeds faster than your home internet connection. And in certain other areas, AT&T may have the strongest 5G coverage. Verizon also recently announced a rollout to it's 5G Ultra Wideband network which may change its performance.3 So be sure to check the coverage maps (see above) to see what each carrier’s network looks like in your area. 

When people talk about “mobile network coverage,” they’re referring to the area in which a given cell phone carrier’s signal works, and the strength of that signal. The mobile network coverage of each company will depend on where it has placed network towers and other network infrastructure. 

There are three major carrier networks in the United States—AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon—and each one has its own coverage area. You can see each company’s coverage map in the article above.

Network reliability is a tricky subject because there are several factors at play. There’s the issue of overall coverage by area, which is different from the reliability of signal and data speeds within that area. 

So, to begin answering this question, we’ll say that Verizon has the best overall coverage by area. You can get a good 4G signal in more places with Verizon than with T-Mobile or AT&T. But, that doesn’t necessarily make Verizon the most reliable network in every city or town. 

For instance, in OpenSignal’s 2023 4G Mobile Network Experience Report, T-Mobile actually has the best overall download speed and upload speeds. This means that the networks may be more reliable (within their given coverage areas) for things like streaming video or playing games, even if they don’t have the largest coverage area by size.

The cell phone carrier with the best signal strength will come down to where you are located. In general, Verizon's 4G network covers the most area in the country, with 70% coverage. But Verizon may be a bit spotty if you're out west. 

You can check the coverage maps on T-Mobile, Verizon, and AT&T's websites or scroll up to see which carrier covers the most area in your state.

Verizon offers the best reception and coverage for most rural areas in the US, covering up to 70% of the country. 

Coverage in more rural areas is what sets Verizon apart from AT&T and T-Mobile, making it one of the best wireless provider options if you live in a rural pocket in the Southwest, Midwest, and Northwest.

Your cell signal strength will be determined by how many and where the closest cell towers are near you. 

You can check this coverage using one of our interactive coverage maps above to see which providers offer the most coverage in your specific location. 

Sources

Tyler Abbott
Written by
Tyler Abbott
Tyler has been obsessed with watching sports as efficiently as possible since the creation of the DVR. He is always on the lookout for the best tech in TV and wireless so he can watch all the sports and still have enough time to hang out with his baby. He has written about streaming, wireless, and TV for over three years. He hopes the Lakers will eventually get better.

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